Kansas Athletics looking for bidders to run its retail, online stores

Originally published December 3, 2010 at 3:47 p.m., updated December 3, 2010 at 5:25 p.m.

Kansas Athletics Inc. is accepting bids to operate its KU Store retail and online operations, five years after awarding the contract to Rock Island, Ill.-based Sports Avenue.

The contract is to operate the store inside the Booth Family Hall of Athletics, to sell licensed merchandise at all athletic events and to operate a website selling Jayhawk merchandise.

At least two area bidders — Jock’s Nitch and the Kansas Memorial Unions — have expressed interest in at least a part of the contract, said Jim Marchiony, associate athletic director. Jock’s Nitch is a Kansas corporation that has stores across the state, including in Lawrence.

But Kansas Athletics doesn’t give special consideration to local businesses — or any business, for that matter, according to Marchiony.

“We’ll choose the best company to help us get where we want to be,” he said.

The existing company has also expressed interest in keeping the contract, Marchiony said.

The bidding process is something that David Mucci, director of the Kansas Memorial Unions, understands. The unions put in a bid to operate the store last time, but didn’t get it. But Mucci said he understood, as a state entity especially, that it was the best bid that mattered and not always the local one.

In fact, as an operator of an organization that both puts out requests for proposals and responds to them, choosing a local bidder over a more-qualified one can become troublesome, he said.

“Then you’re open to every kind of criticism,” Mucci said.

The unions’ catering service recently took over food operations in the suites at the football stadium, he said, likely because if something goes wrong, KU Dining has a kitchen 200 yards away, while Centerplate, the company that had it before, would have had to shuttle food down Interstate 70.

Bidders for the KU Store’s operation have to submit percentages of sales that they would give to Kansas Athletics for sales at athletic events, the website and at the retail store in Allen Fieldhouse, along with a discount percentage given to Kansas Athletics employees and an annual amount they would guarantee to the athletics corporation.

In 2006, Sports Avenue agreed to pay 25 percent royalties on sales from the online and event merchandise, and 20 percent of the sales in Allen Fieldhouse’s retail store, and guaranteed KU a $350,000 annual payment.

The Journal-World obtained the contract and the requests for proposals for the initial bidding process five years ago through an open records request; however, athletics officials said they had lost the bids from 2005 and could not provide the names of other companies that did the initial bidding.

Within the next couple of weeks, Kansas Athletics will be identifying bidders they want to interview and proceed from there.